EZTV: a somewhat short history (in two parts)
Vanessa suggested that Kate Johnson and I give an introduction to EZTV’s history and some links to the EZTV Museum, an online archive about an arts space and accompanying several distinct, and as yet, under-represented arts movements. I worked on building out this site during my participation with the Stanford PBR MOOC. The initial draft is finally nearing completion, and the editing phase will begin in January.
Giving a short and concise definition of what EZTV is, or was, has proven to be difficult. We decided to do two posts on the now 35 year history of EZTV. I will do the first part and in a week or two, Kate will do the second. Obviously much will be left out and we invite everyone to try to navigate the admittedly cumbersome interface in this first pass of the online museum.
Part 1 (1979-93) – the pre Kate Johnson years
Here is a five minute video, “About EZTV” by art critic Peter Frank, shot in 1999, during the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 20th anniversary tribute to the space and its artists (representative EZTV video clips were inserted in 2004):
With its roots going back to 1979, in 1983 EZTV became an ongoing gallery dedicated to video. According to the AFI, it was the first independent gallery dedicated to ‘the box’. It demonstrated what was to become known as ‘microcinema’, presenting video in something more akin to a theatrical presentation, rather than the ways that art spaces had been presenting video art. But it was also a production space, creating original work.
In addition to producing and presenting their own projects, EZTV’s artists curated projects from a diverse body of work. Initially, many of the founding members were openly gay men, at a time when such public identification was detrimental to one’s career. But rather than ghettoize their movement, they sought multicultural participation. The space quickly expanded its community to a variety of then under-represented Los Angeles communities, including, but not limited to spoken word, experimental documentary, comedy, performance art, punk rock, art rock, experimental narrative and most significant, the emerging digital cultures which were just reaching public attention.
A brief profile on early EZTV, with some of its original members was shown on PBS in 1985:
EZTV always intentionally stood outside the mainstream of either contemporary art or popular culture. I see it as a group of ‘artist-anthropologists”, interested in the numerous manifestations which electronic cultures were developing, facilitating and proliferating. In the shadow of Hollywood, it created and fostered an independent movement of artists, thinkers and performers willing to take risks and explore the unconventional. Today’s notions of Practice Based Research and ‘artist-scholars’ somehow is synergistic with EZTV’s earliest efforts. Integration into a more widely held academic database seems essential to a fuller understanding of the evolution to new media’s current adoption.
EZTV did its first experiments with the internet in 1984 (in conjunction with long-time collaborator LA ACM SIGGRAPH), its first international internet project in 1987 (in collaboration with radio station KPFK and with scientist/sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clark). It created CyberSpace Gallery, which was among the world’s first galleries for digital art, maintained an ongoing electronic BBS and in 1995 created what was among the earliest websites focusing on digital art. Many seminal digital artists, such as David Em, Tony Longson, Rebecca Allen, Jennifer Steinkamp, Karl Sims and many others were exhibited both in its physical galleries as well as online.
A profile by horror movie actor and art collector Vincent Price, on a 1990 digital art show at EZTV, appeared on Price’s TV show about art collecting:
Throughout the 1980’s, the AIDS pandemic decimated EZTV’s core group, resulting in a remaining community that began the transformation which resulted in the later incarnations of EZTV. The impact that the emerging voices from LA’s Queer community, and the struggle for it to combat the politics of AIDS had the greatest role in shaping EZTV’s destiny:
AIDS not only affected EZTV but West Hollywood, the predominately gay city in which EZTV was located. In 1986, EZTV did a satirical work of ‘sculptural graffiti” known as The West Hollywood Sign, an obvious parody of the more famous Hollywood landmark. As Hollywood was the ‘film capital of the world’, EZTV brashly declared West Hollywood the ‘video capital of the world’. This piece of performance based parody became instantly adopted by the citizens of WeHo, who saw it as a symbol of defiance against not just mainstream culture, but homophobia. Recently, years after the sign’s demise, writer Paulo Murillo wrote that when they would ‘try to beat the gay out of him, he’d think about the West Hollywood Sign”. EZTV expected to be ordered to tear down the sign instantly, but it stood for 5 years. A video document of the sign’s tongue in cheek inauguration is here:
EZTV presented work by internationally recognized artists (i.e. David Hockney, Keith Haring, Yoko Ono, R. Crumb, Robert Williams, Jim Shaw, Tom of Finland, Natasha Vita-More, Jean Luc Goddard, Robert Altman, Bob Flannagan, Barbara T. Smith, Rachel Rosenthal, Rebecca Allen) as well as many artists in various stages of their career advancement. Some of the more obscure artists had the most interesting stories, such as with the extraordinary life of artist Mark Gash:
Gash was not the only EZTV artist facing physical challenge. The life of Zina Bethune, an actor (who starred in Martin Scorsese’s first film) a choreographer (who as a child studied and danced with Balanchine) multimedia pioneer and advocate/teacher for the physically challenged is an inspiring and heartbreaking case-study. The memorial film (currently being developed into a feature-length documentary) which her friends at EZTV made for her, gives a glimpse to her amazing life:
In the late 1980’s EZTV did a number of profiles on leading literary figures, such as this clip from co-founder of the Beatnik movement, Allen Ginsberg:
EZTV evolved in multiple directions, some wanting to make B-movie style narratives, some political agitprop, and others, investigating the third-wave feminist complexities of sexual politics such as in the work of music/art duo Vertical Blanking:
EZTV’s core artists built numerous collaborative relationships with not just other artists, but with thinkers in various fields as well. Dr. Timothy Leary was a supporter of EZTV’s efforts and in addition to collaborating with Vertical Blanking, staged a number of live multimedia events at EZTV, with individuals such as P.Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Dr. Fiorella Terenzi:
EZTV struggled to survive throughout the height of the AIDS pandemic. Following the death of EZTV founder John Dorr, Kate Johnson came onboard. She quickly took on much of the administration as well as art producing at EZTV.
Kate will explore EZTV after her arrival in Part 2, a post coming early in 2014.